Gongfu Brew

25 03 2009
This is my favorite little pot.

This is my favorite little pot.

I broke my handiest TeaMaster Automatic Tea Brewer. Foolish mishanding on my part, but I cracked that lovely Dehua porcelain. So I went back to my Yixing clay pot, the pot that Cha Shifu gave me all these years ago, the one I have woefully neglected in favor of the easiest way to brew a good pot of Kungfu tea this side of Mars.

So I am brewing up some White Peony white tea. I cheated and skipped a lot of steps like heating the pot and awakening the dragon. Cover the bottom of the pot with great C.C. Fine Tea Bai Mu Dan and add hot water.

I am about to sample the second infusion and see if I still have the knack. [pouring, sipping] Oh yes, the lovely orchid taste of true white tea. I might have added a wee bit too much tea to the pot, the brew is just a tad astringent. Or, my water might have been just a tot too hot. But it is swell, nonetheless. Double-swell. And this is White Peony made from the sweetest spring leaves, not from the usual summer picking.

When all the world goes to hell in a hand basket, as long as you have a good Yixing clay pot,  good tea leaves, and some lovely water…oh, and a heat source…you can always brew a good pot of tea.  Here are Cha Shifu Jason C.S. Chen’s instructions for brewing a good pot of tea:

http://luyutea.com/tea_Brewing.html

Tea makes a happy day.

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Tea from Heaven

15 02 2009

 

Bai Hao Silver Needle Photo By Craig Gibson

Bai Hao Silver Needle Photo By Craig Gibson

My favorite tea is Yin Zhen Bai Hao, White Hair Silver Needle-Bai Hao means White Hair. This is a white tea from north and east Fujian province. It is all buds and processed in the oolong manner using sunshine withering. The best I have ever had comes from Tea Master Jason C.S. Chen at C.C. Fine Tea in Seattle. Master Chen’s Silver Needle is both authentic and traditional. Historically, real white tea was very difficult to find, even in China. In his remarkable book on Chinese tea, John Blofeld laments never having tasted real white tea in his life. Today, the American airwaves are full of commercials for “white tea” yet the tea they are promoting is really just another green tea. There is also a low-chlorophyll green tea that is sold as white because it is lacking in color. Phooey!

Thanks to changes in policy in China, in recent years, real white tea is available, but you have to know where to look. The two most available types are White Peony—Bai Mu Dan—which is two leaves, one bud, and sunshine withered, and…Bai Hao Silver Needle. Ah, if I could write poetry in Chinese, I would write love songs to this tea. According to Tea Master Chen, three steps are necessary to produce a true white tea: “1. Outdoor Withering (also called sunshine withering) 2. Indoor withering  3. Very light fire drying (long and gentle and with care so the white bud is still white). These three extra steps allow traditional white tea (Bai Hao Silver Needle and White Peony) to retain more medicinal benefits and still have a special flavor and fragrance.”(1) 

Silver Needle brews to a beautiful golden color with lingering flavors of bamboo and orchid. My western palate translates orchid into vanilla—and, vanilla is a member of the orchid family. But this orchid flavor is very subtle. In an otherwise very fine book on Chinese tea, I must take exception to one sentence from Master Lam Kam Cheun: “When you drink white tea, it seems quite tasteless—as if you were drinking hot water with a slightly milder and more subtle taste than normal.”(2) Granted, he goes on to extol the virtues of white tea, but I believe he must be getting inferior white tea in England. Perhaps it is too old.

One of the many virtues of white tea is the lingering flavor. All good teas linger in the mouth. It is a godsend, I suppose, that bad tea does not linger. Every time I raise a cup to my mouth and take one sip of Silver Needle, I think this is all I need, one sip and the lingering. But, I am greedy, and the first sip is followed by a second, on to the Seventh Cup. And if any tea could transport one to the Sacred Island of Horaisan, it would be Yin Zhen Bai Hao. I feel “the breath of cool wind”(3) rising in my sleeves just thinking about this superb tea.

On their deathbeds, great Zen Masters are often said to end their lives with a poem, the last line being a shout. I am not a Zen Master but I feel my life will be complete if I can end it with one last sip of Silver Needle, uttering an “Ah” as I leave this world. 

A golden cup of Silver Needle Photo by Craig Gibson

A golden cup of Silver Needle Photo by Craig Gibson

Okakura Kakuzo

Okakura Kakuzo

 



 1. Tea from China by Master Jason C.S. Chen 2006

 2. The Way of Tea by Master Lam Kam Cheun with Lam Kai Sin and Lam Tin Yu 2002

3.  The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo 1906





Tea Girl's Lament

25 01 2009
 Traditionally, the best tea was picked by young girls in the very early morning. John Blofeld writes:

The ideal time of day for picking is during the hours before sunrise, when the natural fragrance is at its height. The tea girls have to leave their warm beds at two or three in the morning and brave the chill mountain winds, to say nothing of risking encounters with poisonous snakes and insects; so they sing as they climb, to keep up their spirits. That their simple pleasant songs are not without charm can be judged from the following lament of a girl roused from sleep in the cold wee hours:

 

 

Early in the night,

I dreamt of being married

–Oh, how kind my lover,

Oh how much we loved,

Clinging to each other!

Suddenly awakened,

My spirit in a tizz,

I found my dream love gone!

Searching through my dreams,

I ordered that young man

By all means to await me

In my dreams to come.

 John Blofeld © 1985





Give me a pot of Big Mouth, please.

18 01 2009
Bai Hao--two leaves one bud

Bai Hao--two leaves one bud Photo by Craig Gibson

I just acquired some very fresh Bai Hao Oolong tea from the Fujian gardens of my Tea Master, Jason C.S. Chen. Very fresh! Bai Hao is usually known in the west as Oriental Beauty, although its original name was Big Mouth tea. Bai Hao is one of the most oxidized of the oolongs giving it that western comfort feel of a black tea whilst retaining the honey sweetness of an oolong. This is one great tea, especially when it is so fresh. Bai Hao means “white hair.” The finest camellia sinensis has white hair on the buds. This is an oolong so it is picked two leaves, one bud. Oh, and the sweetest thing about it, literally, is when bugs chew on the plant, it produces sugars as a defense. Sweet, indeed. [Photo by Craig Gibson]

 Coming Soon…Bai Hao Silver Needle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the meantime, have a cuppa on me:

 





The Seventh Cup, Indeed!

14 01 2009

cha5The purpose of this site is to discuss and praise fine tea, mostly fine Chinese tea. Please bring your tea stories here. Tell us about the lovely teas you have found, help us taste them with you. [Please, no offense intended, but this site is for the praise of Camellia sinesis–tea–no herbals, please. Those are “tisanes.”]

 

There follows perhaps the most famous poem ever written about tea. We usually only see the last two parts.

 

 

Translator John Blofeld says about this poem,“Unable to translate it in a manner that does it real justice, I can but offer a semi-metric rendering.”

 

The Song of Tea

(Thanks to Imperial Censor Mêng for his Gift of Freshly Picked Tea)

by Lu T’ung (The Tea Doter)

 

1

I was lying lost in slumber as the morning sun climbed high,

When my dreams were shattered by a thunderous knocking at the door.

An officer had brought a letter from the imperial censor,

Its three great seals slanting across the white silk cover.

Opening it, I read some words that brought him vividly to mind.

He wrote that he was sending three hundred catties of moon-shaped cakes of tea,

For a road had been cut at the year’s beginning to a special tea garden.

Such tea! And plucked so early in the year, when insects had scarcely begun their chatter,

When spring breezes had just begun to blow

And spring flowers dared not open,

As the emperor still awaited

The annual toll of Yang-hsien tea!

 

2

Ah, how wonderful that tea, plucked ere the kindly breeze

Had swept away the pearling frost upon its leaves

And the tiny leaf-buds shone like gold!

Being packed when fresh and redolent of firing,

Its essential goodness had been cherished, instead of wasted.

Such tea was intended for the court and high nobility;

How had it reached the hut of a humble mountain-dweller?

 

3

To honour the tea, I shut my brushwood gate,

Lest common folk intrude,

And donned my gauze cap

To brew and taste it on my own.

 

4

The first bowl sleekly moistened throat and lips,

The second banished all my loneliness,

The third expelled the dullness from my mind,

Sharpening inspiration gained from all the books I’ve read.

The fourth brought forth light perspiration,

Dispersing a lifetime’s troubles through my pores.

The fifth bowl cleansed ev’ry atom of my being.

The sixth has made me kin to the Immortals.

The seventh is the utmost I can drink—

A light breeze issues from my armpits.

 

5

Where are those Isles of Immortals whither I am bound?

I, Master Jade Spring, will ride upon this breeze

To the place where the Immortals alight upon the earth,

Guarded by their divinity from wind and rain.

How can I bear the fate of countless beings

Born to bitter toil amid the towering peaks?

I must ask Censor Mêng if he can tell

Whether those beings will ever be allowed to rest.

 

Translation © John Blofeld 1985

p1010162_0056_55

Photo by Jason C.S. Chen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know the following video is Japanese, not Chinese, but it is so cute!





The New Year and the Way

1 01 2009

The Blofeld Yijing says about this Western New Year for yours truly: “The Superior Man busies himself setting things in order.” This will be followed by: “The Superior Man, seeing what is good, imitates it; seeing what is bad, he corrects it.” 

 Winter, to me, always hearkens a return. My Le Guin translation of the Tao Te Ching reads:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to the Root

Be completely empty.

Be perfectly serene.

The ten thousand things arise together;

in their arising is their return.

Now they flower,

and flowering

sink homeward,

returning to the root.

 

The return to the root

is peace.

Peace: to accept what must be,

to know what endures.

In that knowledge is wisdom.

Without it, ruin, disorder.

 

To know what endures

is to be openhearted,

magnanimous,

regal,

blessed,

following the Tao,

the way that endures forever.

The body comes to its ending,

But there is nothing to fear.

© 1997 Ursula K. Le Guin





The Third Virtue: Patience

11 10 2008

 

 

 

Naifan   (Patient)

Nai: endure, bear; resist; patient

Fan: bother, vex, trouble; troublesome

 Patience: I serve others according to their needs

Patience is the ability to wait until the time is right and to act out of a need for correct action not influenced by personal desires. When you fail, learn to rise again like the phoenix and do better the next time you practice. Understand that you are human and that making mistakes is a part of life not an indication of your lack of ability. © 2008 Dr. John P. Painter

At the end of every session of Daoqiquan training, the students “bow out” saluting the four cardinal directions and reciting the Four Virtues. The third Virtue is Patience. Many folks will say that patience is something they do not have. “I’m losing my patience!” “I’m running out of patience!” In the 1970’s there was a popular black light poster with two buzzards sitting on a cactus. One of the buzzards says, “Patience my ass! I’m gonna kill something!”

 I believe I began learning patience at the knee of my Grand Shifu, Dr. Painter. This began with meditation. I mean come on, you just sit there. And then you sit there. And then you sit some more. At the beginning of each class we sat on the mats around the walls of the kwoon and we meditated. Or we tried to.

 The body immediately began to interfere. I had to swallow, then I had to cough, then I had an itch to scratch. Then someone else would cough and I would have to cough again. This is meditation?

 But, gradually, over time, the body’s interference subsided and my mind began to calm and I came closer and closer to meditating. Then one day, it all came together and suddenly one of those light bulbs appeared in the air over my head, and I knew that I was meditating. Except, of course, by knowing I was meditating, I was no longer meditating, but it got easier and easier.

 To sit down with anxiety and calm the mind and quell the body and have time cease to exist until sometime later you stop meditating and what seemed like one second was one hour and all the fear and anger and worry has been washed out of your system–that is meditating. There are many higher levels of meditation, but this tale is about patience.

Legend tells us that Bodhidharma, an Indian monk called Da Mo in China, the monk who brought Ch’an Buddhism to China and founded Shaolin Temple, and began the Shaolin martial arts, yeah, that Bodhidharma, anyway legend says he sat in meditation for nine years. Now that is patience. But, sigh, even old Da Mo had his faults.

According to that same legend, he fell asleep in his meditation and when he awoke he was so angry with himself, he ripped off his eyelids and flung them to the ground! That is not patience. The good thing of course, is that from those eyelids grew the first tea plant.

My next step up the patience ladder was when I managed a small computer business. The owner was out all day selling and installing CAD systems while I answered the phone, did paperwork, and built computers from scratch. Or from little bitty pieces, anyway. So, lots of things can go wrong when constructing a computer. And you don’t know that anything is wrong until all the little bits reach a certain level of assembly. Then you hit the power switch and see if anything appears on the screen. Now this was the old days. RAM wasn’t just a SIMM or DIMM or two slapped into a slot, this was the days when each individual chip was inserted onto the motherboard. Lots more things could go wrong, like a bent pin.

So, I very quickly learned that if I hurriedly put the computer together, I would, most likely, have to slowly take it apart again, testing each section as I went, to find out why the darned thing didn’t work. And this led to an increase in patience. Take your time! Go slow, get it right the first time.

The other day at a tea show in Seattle I watched a Korean tea ceremony. It has a lot in common with the Japanese tea ceremony, Chanoyu. This is ritual personified. Every movement is precise and always the same and the movements are slow and there is no hurry. Please the eyes with subtle beauty, please the ears with music, please the nose with aroma, and please the palate with cha–tea. Take your time, there is no time, there is only the sound of the bubbling water and the whisk as it whips the tea powder into a lovely green froth. Patience.

 Now, I am not claiming to possess any great reservoir of patience, but merely saying that I have a lot more than I used to. And saying that there are ways to cultivate patience until, when it appears, you greet it like an old friend.

One of my favorite sayings is “When the time is right for the student to learn, a teacher will appear.” Be patient and that teacher will come.

Sun-Tzu said something to the effect, “He who must take action has lost the battle.” This does not mean action cannot be taken, but choose your time, choose your place and the battle will already be half won. Be patient.

Blaise Pascal said “All the troubles of the world stem from Man’s inability to sit quietly in his room.” Boy was he onto something.

The point here being, take your time, relax, breathe, notice what is around you, learn to un-notice what is around you, slow and steady does win the race. “I serve others according to their needs.”